What I Meant to Say at Our Ocean Greece 2024

I spoke at Our Ocean Greece 2024 yesterday.  I think it went well.

I had prepared remarks, but none of the other panelists were reading or using notes, so I figured neither would I.  In the preceding week, I spent a good amount of time preparing for what was supposed to be a 3 minute speech followed by a panel discussion, but every panelist went well beyond their allotted time, and we never actually got to the discussion part.  I spoke last -- as the least distinguished speaker -- and was thrown for a bit of a loop when the moderator asked me what was supposed to be my follow up question.  Earlier in the day I was talking with my friend Sheila about our recently deceased friend Cinta Kaipat, so I started my story with her.  Everything else just poured out as I thought of my friend.

There were a couple of other things I wanted to say, so I'm posting my remarks here for no other reason than I spent a lot of time on them.  I had wanted to get in a talking point about 50x50 and I wanted to end my follow up question by saying that we need to decolonize conservation, but I ended mashing everything together and talking about it out of order, but hopefully if you were watching, the narrative made sense even though I can hear my voice shaking in the first two minutes of the talk because I was absolutely terrified being on that stage.

Our Ocean Remarks
30x30 has been one of the most successful conservation initiatives in history. Just look at the people in this room! It has buy-in at the highest levels of government all around the world, and funders are pouring resources into supporting it. It's easily communicated and measurable. It is a good metric. But we are not done, and I think we need to go BEYOND 30x30.

That’s because 30x30 also has its weaknesses. 30x30 has led to many MPAs that are (1) poorly designed, (2) poorly implemented, and (3) unjust. So there’s a real danger wherein 30x30 turns into an exercise in creative accounting.

As an example, the United States, where I live and work, is on the cusp of achieving 30x30 on the ocean. But if you look beneath the surface, 99.5% of the marine reserves are in the remote Pacific Islands, there’s virtually nothing in the lower 48, and half the MPA coverage is lacking management plans.

So achieving 30x30 is not enough. We need to go BEYOND 30x30. And that does not mean we pivot to 50x50 – all the shortcomings in 30x30 will only be amplified in 50x50. Rather, we need to ensure that we are creating networks of well-designed, well-implemented, equitable and just protected areas.

Beyond 30x30 emphasizes the importance of equitable ocean conservation outcomes. Let me be clear – the people who carry the conservation burdens right now are not the ones reaping the benefits.

Beyond 30x30 calls for MPAs that are not only designated, but also funded and staffed to ensure they are managed effectively. Half the MPAs in the US are in the Pacific territories – and there are exactly two staffers there – everyone else is staffed in Hawaii. That is neither equitable nor implemented.

Beyond 30x30 also holds Indigenous knowledge and values in the same prestige as western scientific methods to address modern threats to the ocean.

And Beyond 30x30 will take into account the various uses of public waters, from sacred places to wise use, and celebrates the human connection to the ocean – especially places with kelp, corals, seagrasses, and mangroves – and makes room for food security and human stewardship. This will likely mean areas that are smaller, closer to the shore and people. We won’t rack up those huge 30x30 numbers with these areas – and that’s ok. Look at a place like the Chesapeake Bay near Washington, DC. At 10,000 square kilometers, is it really too small?

30x30 is not enough on its own, so let’s all start thinking about how we measure conservation success beyond area targets, and how we can go beyond 30x30 to deliver the conservation goals we all sacrifice and dedicate our lives for. Instead of debating “what counts,” we need to ask ourselves “what comes next?”

Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.

Follow up question
"What issues are we not talking about at the Our Ocean Conference that are affecting ocean health and harming coastal communities?"

This community gives a free pass to the damage caused by the military. If you go to my island and ask people what are the top three things threatening ocean health, they will say, the military, the military, and the military. The US military alone emits more greenhouse gasses than Sweden, Denmark, and Portugal.

And this community also has a long way to go towards addressing issues of colonialism and racism. You love to invite Indigenous people up on stage to welcome you and to sing and to dance, but get uncomfortable when we start talking about our everyday realities.

It’s impossible to talk about Indigenous led conservation if you don’t address the harms of colonialism. We need to de-colonize conservation.


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